Ewan McGregor ruined adventure motorcycles. His production the “Long Way Round,” is the “Eat, Pray, Love” for motorcycles, a perfect first-world-problem piece that shows the only way to experience borderless wanderlust is through hugely expansive and expensive endeavours through third-world countries. Fun? Yes. Achievable? Not for many.
Since that production, adventure bikes have exploded in both popularity and features, while people in cubicles the world over have fantasised about dropping it all, buying a GS, and heading into parts unknown. And adventure bikes have evolved to fit these increasing demands. Once simply armored-up road bikes, they now come saddled with the latest in riding tech, and horsepower numbers that would shame sportbikes of 15 years ago.
The results are thrones of technological superiority, but are still simply too tall, too fast, and too expensive for the beginner rider. On the other side of the ADV equation is the dirt-focused dual-sport that isn’t comfortable on the street or over long distances.
Where are the bikes that are perfect for once-a-week adventures, not once-in-a-lifetime ones? A new option emerges, and it hails from an unexpected player.
Royal Enfield had been building variations of essentially the same motorcycle up until the unit-construction engine (UCE) was put into production in 2010. The Redditch Company partnered with Madras Motor to form Enfield India in 1955 to build Royal Enfield Bullets under license. It then was acquired by the Eicher Group in 1990, and currently churns out the Bullet, Continental GT, and four versions of the Classic.
But lately, it has been busy. In 2013, Royal Enfield moved into a new factory in Chennai, with new tooling and manufacturing processes, then hired former Cagiva/Ducati designer Pierre Terblanche in 2014 to head the design team. It then acquired Harris Performance Products in 2015. Royal Enfield is pivoting from its usual routine to achieve a lofty goal: become the leading middleweight motorcycle company in the world, and bring fun and accessibility back to motorcycles.
The Royal Enfield Himalayan is the first product of these restructuring efforts, and was built with one goal in mind: expand Royal Enfield’s reach, and conquer the Himalayan mountain range—regardless of your skill level. This goal is reiterated graphically, everywhere—the word Himalayan is slathered all over the bike, even embedded in the graphics.
We are not in the Himalayas, however, but in Milwaukee, WI, where Royal Enfield NA has set up shop and where it has brought in two examples of the Himalayan for market testing.
The Himalayan has a rugged presence that resides somewhere between fully bagged ADV and bare-bones dual-sport. Like many of Terblanche’s designs, it is pretty and pretty awkward, but not homely. Its stance implies its dirt focus, but it has a softer execution and lacks expansive plastics and aggressive angles. Its design speaks with friendly enthusiasm, not with murderous intent to dominate all obstacles that lay in its path.
Ruggedness and simplicity are apparent: pieces are designed into the overall appearance, not bolted on. Instead of an array of fairings, ducts, panels, and pieces to cover the complicated mess that sits beneath a modern ADV bike’s shell, the Himalayan’s guts are laid bare for the world to see, and accessible without taking the whole thing apart.
The build quality is significantly improved over Enfields of yore; a benefit of being both a clean-sheet design, and the heir to millions of dollars of production investment. Plastics are sturdy, wires hidden away and tucked, emission equipment is not tacked on, and everything is class standard for fit and finish.
Throwing a leg over the saddle shows how different this bike is than the rest of the ADV class regulars. With a seat height of 31 in., it’s far more accessible than entry-level dual-sports; although, it will be a bit more cramped for taller riders, but this one aspect points at the purpose of this machine.
The objective is “accessible fun.” This theme kept coming up when talking with Rod Cope, Royal Enfield NA’s president, and is the strategy driving the brand forward. Royal Enfield aims to build bikes with real-world usability in mind, not spec-sheet dominance.
So, what are those specifications? The Himalayan has an all-new, air-cooled, carbureted 410cc single-cylinder UCE engine, an all-new frame, and shares no parts with Royal Enfields that have come before it. It produces a claimed 24.5 hp at 6,500 rpm and 23 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 4,500 rpm (most of it readily available before that). Power is sent through a five-speed transmission.
These are conventional numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place more than 20 years ago, but it all works well in practice. The new 410 LE motor is willing to rev, and is smooth in its delivery. Running amok in gravel lots, it flatters your riding even though it doesn’t send adrenaline surging. It’s average in the nicest use of the word, in that it doesn’t make a fuss of being throttled, and doesn’t vibrate you to numbness. Everything is easy to use, with a light easy-to-control clutch and a transmission with smooth shift throws.
On the highway, you can cruise at 75 mph comfortably and without bothersome vibrations, although the windscreen does buffet a bit.
The suspension and braking systems don’t write any new headlines for being amazing. The fork is a 41mm unit up front while a monoshock with adjustable preload resides in the rear. The front wheel is a 21-in.-diameter unit with a 17-incher out back. The components were chosen with a 50/50 on-road/off-road usage in mind. The suspension has 8.6 in. of travel front and rear before earth meets metal.
The brake system consists of a twin-piston floating caliper biting a 300mm disc up front, and a single piston floating caliper/240mm disc in the rear. The front setup doesn’t offer much initial bite, and feel from the rear is “wooden,” but stopping power remains adequate. The tires are CEAT, which is apparently a tire brand. That’s all there is to say about them, since if the bike does in fact get imported into the U.S. we are told that a more recognizable brand will be sourced for our market.
Other than the middling componentry, the bike is dripping with content. It has two racks up front that double as tank guards, a rear luggage rack, one near the swingarm, and a small bash plate. There are no engine guards, though, and as it sits it would need a dose of armor for heavy ADV use as some parts, like the oil cooler, are left exposed.
On the road, the lack of spec-sheet flash doesn’t matter. Its puppy-dog nature makes potholes and asphalt cracks nary a problem, and that new single just pops and gurgles along the way. At 410 lbs. it’s not light, but most of that weight is carried low in the frame, so maneuverability and gravel antics are fun and confidence inspiring.
It is a scrambler in the truest sense of the word; meant to be simple, and bring adventure into the in-between times, not just the extreme once-a-year extravaganzas. It’s perfect for dipping your toe into the off-road world: hopping into a gravel lot over here, a fire road there, and maybe some light dedicated off-roading on the weekends.
Royal Enfield’s job was to create an entry-level ADV platform, and it succeeded. Not with tech, but with an emphasis placed on usability and accessibility, from its seat height to its power delivery, to its price tag.
And speaking of price, Royal Enfield is mum on when and if this bike is coming to America. If it is, they estimate it will be somewhere in the realm of $4,000 to $5,000, which is a whole lot of motorcycle when you consider its commuter and ADV capabilities. Its biggest competitors will be used KLR’s and WR’s at that price, but the Himalayan is far easier to sit on and more comfortable to ride. It’s more mini-GS than dual-sport.
The Himalayan is extremely well equipped for beginning ADV riders, and 99-percent of the rides they will do, but as the success of “Long Way Round” shows, fantasy, not always reality, sells bikes. Royal Enfield is listening intently to feedback on if they should bring this bike stateside, and have upgrades in mind to make that happen (namely adding EFI).
My verdict? The Himalayan’s ruggedness and simplicity are exactly the cure for the exceedingly complex ADV bikes of today, and a strong step forward to broaden Royal Enfield’s reach. It may not light the fire of experienced ADV riders, or come equipped with all the necessary armor for hardcore ADV usage, but it’s not supposed to be a hardcore bike. It’s supposed to be fun and accessible to early overlanders, and it nails that goal perfectly.